Micah Richards is targeting possible back-to-back Manchester derbies for a return to first-team action.
The popular defender has been side-lined for almost five months after damaging his cartilage against Swansea last October and has endured a long and at times painful rehabilitation.
But the Blues’ longest-serving player, still only 24, is now nearing full fitness and is eyeing the Premier League clash with United on 8 April and the FA Cup semi-final against either Chelsea or the Reds six days later for a senior squad return.
“In the last ten days I’ve been training outside again, doing two days of running and then a recovery day after that,” he said.
“I had a big fitness session on Tuesday and I’m starting to feel really good again so when the lads are back from international duty, I should be taking part in partial sessions with them as I continue to close in on a return.
I think the Newcastle match will come too soon for me, though I hope to have been training normally by then. Realistically, I’m looking more to the game away to United and then the FA Cup semi-final – maybe against United again to be properly involved again - two relaxing games in a week on the horizon!
“I’ll be trying my best to get back into the squad and it will be great just to be back among the lads and getting a feel for everything again.”
With just four games under his belt this campaign, Micah admits this has been the worst season of his career in terms of being out of the team, but he is hoping to finish the season on a high and come hit the ground running for 2013/14.
“I’ve only had one full season injury free but I wouldn’t say I was injury prone at all,” he argued. “I think it’s more to do with the way I go in for headers and tackles – 100% every time - it’s what makes me the player I am and I would find it hard to play any other way.
“I’ve really missed the banter because I’ve been doing virtual office hours of 9 to 5 while I’ve been working my way back to fitness which, I know, are normal hours for most people but for a footballer, we usually are finished for 1pm so I’ve been working really hard to get back.
“I don’t expect to just walk back into the team because the lads have all been playing so well, especially at the back, but I want to finish strongly and then really power into next season after having a full pre-season training behind me. I can’t wait to start playing again.”